This article is from 2007.
Heavyweight new author Craig Davidson is used to fighting puns by now. He talks to Doug Johnstone
Craig Davidson doesn’t pull any punches. We might as well get the terrible boxing pun out the way at the start, because his debut novel, The Fighter, is a brutally violent but brilliantly written tale set in the world of underground bare-knuckle fighting. Following on from Rust and Bone, last year’s equally visceral collection of short stories, The Fighter is a truly remarkable effort from the young Canadian writer, and if there’s any justice in the world, it will see him automatically catapulted into the big league.
‘I realised as I was writing it that, due to all the violence, I was probably really limiting my market, but I didn’t stop,’ says Davidson, fighting his corner (sorry, I’ll stop now).
Chuck Palahniuk, Irvine Welsh and Bret Easton Ellis have all spotted something in the work of this young protégé worth raving about, and Davidson’s debut stands shoulder to shoulder with books like Fight Club and Trainspotting in that same hinterland of mainstream yet somehow underground writing, while also fitting into the more rarefied atmosphere of literary fiction. Because The Fighter is much more than just a perfectly wrought exposé of the complex machismo of boxing. Its two main characters are Paul, a son of privilege who is drawn into the world after being beaten up in a bar, and Rob, born into a poor boxing family and the latest in a long line of contenders. Both characters struggle to throw off the lives that fate has set in place for them, but that struggle inexorably leads them into the ring against each other in a climax which is shocking, gripping and masterfully judged.
‘This book is about being willing to take the risks to change your life,’ says Davidson. ‘A lot of people get married, have a job, have kids; sooner or later you’re in a rut. It’s not necessarily uncomfortable, and you can live your entire life like that, padded in. Boxing was a vehicle, it helped me deal with a lot of the themes of maleness and society, under-privilege and over-privilege, but it also fascinates me on its own level.’
In researching the book, Davidson took up amateur boxing, even injecting himself with steroids (something he describes now as ‘an ill-fated, stupid idea’). Not content with that, when it came to time for publication in Canada and the States, his publishers organised for him to box other writers to promote the book. ‘In the first fight I got mugged, and had the crap beaten out of me,’ Davidson laughs. ‘But I did that fight in front of 450 people, then the next week I did a reading in my home city of Calgary and nobody showed up at all. Plenty of people will show up for a bloodletting, but who wants to hear some guy read from his book?’
Craig Davidson & Nathan Englander, 26 Aug, 7.30pm, £5 (£3).